Republicans Are Angry About Trump's Tariffs. Will They Do Anything About It?

WASHINGTON ― Republicans are once again debating whether to stand up to President Donald Trump on trade, setting up another potentially explosive fight between the president and his party.

Trump last week threatened to impose a 5% tariff on Mexican goods on June 10 if Mexico doesn’t do more to stop the growing flow of migrants crossing its northern border into the U.S. The tariffs would rise gradually every month until they reached 25%, where they would stay until Mexico acted, Trump said. His remarks prompted alarm among officials on both sides of the border.

Many Republican lawmakers say they’re worried about the economic effects of the planned tariffs, which would likely raise prices on consumers and could even nullify some of the GOP tax cuts, according to one study. They also worry that the tariffs could derail passage of Trump’s new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade pact.

Several administration officials gave a presentation during a caucus lunch on Tuesday about the planned tariffs and the legal rationale behind them. It was received poorly by GOP senators, many of whom wondered how the tariffs would go into effect. Some even warned that Trump could face a rebellion on the matter.

“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged afterward during a press conference.

However, McConnell did not say if the Senate would act to block the tariffs on Mexico, saying instead he hoped the tariffs could be “avoided” and the two countries could cut a deal during a meeting between U.S. and Mexican officials scheduled for Wednesday.

Other GOP senators were more blunt about the consequences Trump could face if he decides to go forward with the tariffs, including even potentially a veto override ― which would be the first of his administration.

”The president has to consider whether or not a veto can be sustained,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who supports the tariffs, told reporters on Tuesday.

“If there’s a vote, I think it’s a very difficult vote for those of us who oppose tariffs,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “I would not be inclined to vote [for] a tariff against a friend.”

Congress can override a president’s decision if it can muster the necessary two-thirds vote of each house.

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Trump gave no sign of backing down on Tuesday, warning during a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May that it would be “foolish” to try and stop him.

“The president is dug in. He’s as serious as four heart attacks and a stroke,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who called the tariffs “a mistake.”

Depending on how Trump decides to move forward with tariffs on Mexico, that effort could threaten his plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. If the administration decides to enact the tariffs by amending his previous border emergency declaration, and if Congress subsequently votes to override them, it would also block funds for the construction of Trump’s border wall.

Administration officials did not say on Tuesday whether they planned to use the existing emergency declaration or proclaim a new one, according to several GOP senators.

A new declaration from Trump, meanwhile, would mean even more opportunities for senators to embarrass the president, because Congress has the authority to pass a resolution of disapproval that would overrule such a declaration.

GOP orthodoxy for decades has stipulated a commitment to free trade. That all changed when Trump won the GOP nomination for president in 2016 and subsequently enacted a liberal tariff policy while in office, threatening adversaries and allies alike if they did not stop “taking advantage” of the U.S. on trade.

Last year, after Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from allies such as Canada and European Union member nations, the Senate passed a motion by a large, bipartisan margin aimed at curtailing some of the president’s tariff powers. But the measure was nonbinding and had no force of law. 

Republicans have bucked Trump several times in the past year, including on his border emergency declaration and his approach to Saudi Arabia. But they’ve been more hesitant to challenge him on the issue of trade, especially those who are facing tough primary fights next year.

“What’s the tax on handling 80,000 additional illegal immigrants on the border ― to house and accommodate them? You gotta look at the total cost,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection, told reporters on Tuesday when asked if he was concerned that Trump’s tariffs would act as a stealth tax on consumers.

Americans could expect to see higher prices on produce as a result of Trump’s tariffs on Mexico, including asparagus, berries, avocados, tomatoes and lemons, economists have warned. Beer, tequila, electronics and vehicles could also cost more, according to CBS News.

Democrats reacted to Trump’s planned tariffs on Mexico with a mix of disbelief and skepticism.

“I don’t believe that President Trump will actually go through with the tariffs,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday. “President Trump has a habit of talking tough and then retreating, because his policies often can’t be implemented or don’t make sense. President Trump has a habit of proposing asinine and dangerous policies before backing off.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), meanwhile, said he doubted Republicans would actually act to stop the tariffs. 

“Every time, they say, ‘We’re very concerned about this!’” Brown said, paraphrasing Republican lawmakers. “And then Trump says, ‘Don’t be.’ And then they aren’t.”

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